Whether you are six or sixty-four (we’ve had beginners at those and all ages between), you can start fencing at any time.
Experienced fencers can join our club sessions at any time, please contact us in advance to confirm venues and times.
We regularly run beginners courses for people who are interested in learning to fence but have no experience. Please check this site for dates and times of the next beginners course (usually once per half-term).
At the end of the six-week course every beginner is assessed to Grade One standard as fit and safe to continue fencing within the club.
Not if done properly. Although executed with appreciable energy, a good, clean fencing attack hurts no more than a tap on the shoulder. The force of the blow is normally absorbed by the flex of the blade. Reckless and overly aggressive fencers can occasionally deliver painful blows, however. Fencing *is* a martial art, so you should expect minor bruises and welts every now and again. They are rarely intentional. The most painful blows tend to come from inexperienced fencers who have not yet acquired the feel of the weapon.
The primary source of injury in fencing is from pulled muscles and joints. A proper warm up and stretching before fencing will minimise these occurrences.
There is a minor risk of being injured by broken weapons. We’ve never had any injuries.
The shards of a snapped blade can be very sharp and cause injury, especially if the fencer doesn’t realize immediately that his blade is broken and continues fencing. Always wear proper protective gear to reduce this risk. FIE homologated jackets, breeches and masks are ideal, as they are made with puncture-resistant fabrics such as kevlar. If you cannot afford such extravagances, use a plastron (half-jacket worn beneath the regular fencing jacket), and avoid old and rusty masks. Always wear a glove that covers the cuff, to prevent blades from running up the sleeve.
Fencing is often said to be safer than golf. Whether or not this is true, it is an extraordinarily safe sport considering its heritage and nature.
Although foil is commonly the ‘training’ weapon for beginners owing to its lightweight and supposedly light touch, we take a different view.
Sabre can sometimes be an effective starter weapon. It has rules of right of way to emphasize proper defence, and its de-emphasis of point attacks can be a relief to a beginner who doesn’t yet have much point control. Also, in some areas it may still be possible to compete in dry (non-electric) sabre competitions, meaning that it can be the cheapest of all weapons to compete in (although electric sabre is definitely the most expensive weapon).
Épée is sometimes used as a starter weapon because the rules are simple and easy to grasp, and the equipment costs are lower, since no lamé is required.
There is a saying that it takes two lifetimes to master fencing. By the time anyone has come close to “mastering” the sport, they are long past their athletic prime. Some may feel that this is a drawback to the sport, but most fencers see it as a great strength: fencing never becomes dull or routine; there are always new skills to master, and new grounds to conquer.
A dedicated novice who practices twice per week will be ready to try low-level competition in 3-6 months. Competition at this point should be viewed as a learning aid, not as a dedicated effort to win.
Serious attempts at competing will be possible after 2-3 years, when the basic skills have been sufficiently mastered that the mind is free to consider strategy.
A moderate level of skill can take 3-5 years of regular practice and competition.
Penetration of the elite ranks (eg. world cup, A classification) demands three to five days per week of practice and competition, and usually at least 10-15 years of experience.
Progress can be faster or slower, depending on the fencer’s aptitude, dedication, and quality of instruction. Rapid progress normally requires at least three practices per week, and regular competition against superior fencers.
The average world champion is in his late 20s to early 30s and began fencing as a child.
On the athletic side, speed and endurance must rank foremost. Other traits that can be exploited are strength (for explosive speed, not heavy-handedness), precision, and flexibility. Quick reaction time is extremely important.
On the intellectual side, a good mind for strategy and tactics is essential. The ability to quickly size up your opponent and adapt your style accordingly is essential.
Psychologically, a fencer must be able to maintain focus, concentration, and emotional level-headedness under intense conditions of combat. Stress management, visualization, and relaxation techniques are all helpful to putting in winning performances.
As far as body type goes, it is always possible to adapt your style to take advantage of your natural traits. Even so, height seems to be useful in epeé, but not necessarily in sabre. Small or thin people are harder to hit in foil. A long reach helps in epeé, and mobility is useful in sabre.
It should be noted that left handers usually enjoy a slight advantage, especially against inexperienced fencers. This may account for the fact that ‘lefties’ make up 15% of novice fencers, but half of FIE world champions.
At beginners level, using club equipment, surprisingly little!
We run inexpensive beginners courses to get you started, providing all equipment.
If you find fencing is for you and you can seriously see yourself carrying on, then think about buying some starter kit. Most people start with a mask (to fit your own head!) and a jacket. We don’t force people to buy kit, but you’re at the ‘mercy’ of the club kit and whatever size and shape we have on the day.
One of the novices bought a full set after 3 weeks, another started a piece at a time after 3 months.
You can acquire kit one item at a time – masks start around £60, jackets around £65.
Most of the suppliers do a complete starter set.
Like any sport, the top kit prices are sky’s-the-limit. You don’t need it for club fencing.
FIE Competition setup: from £250-1000
Includes: FIE 800N jacket, breeches, plastron, FIE 1600N mask, at least 2 electric weapons, body cord, socks, glove, shoes, lame (foil & sabre only), sensor (sabre only).
Note: while FIE-certified equipment is recommended both in terms of safety and quality, clothing costs can be as much as halved by purchasing regular cotton or synthetic knits. Do not expect such equipment to be accepted at national or international levels of competition, however. Always wear a plastron when using non-competition-weight fencing jackets.
Club costs vary, we have an annual fee plus term fees for attendance (see Fees). Many clubs will provide or rent equipment to beginners.
In centuries past, children started, learning combat skills from the time they could walk, but in the context of a modern sport, there is such a thing as too young.
The children’s class we run is a mixed age, mixed ability group. There is a recommendation from the FIE (fencing governing body) that age 8 is a suitable age to join in group classes, both for safety’s sake and for beginning productive lessons. That’s the minimum age we’ve tended to start kids at Sway and in other classes we have run in the area.